December 17, 2014
NEW YORK — General manager Stan Bowman has made it clear that his top priority this summer is to sign Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to long-term contract extensions. And he isn’t wasting any time. With one year left on their matching deals, the two Blackhawks superstars are eligible to sign new deals July 1. And Bowman and Pat Brisson — the agent for Toews and Kane — plan to have the deals done by then.
“That’s been our No. 1 objective all along,” Bowman said Wednesday after the league’s GM meeting. “And I’m expecting to meet that.”
Of course, locking up Toews and Kane is a foregone conclusion. There’s still plenty of intrigue surrounding the Hawks’ roster beyond those two. Wednesday’s meeting marked the start of the short but busy hot-stove season for the NHL. Potential deals are broached at the meeting, then pick up in earnest the next couple of weeks until it all comes to a head at the NHL draft (June 27-28 in Philadelphia), when many deals occur.
For the Hawks, much of the intrigue — as always — revolves around the second-line center position, which was largely a black hole for the Hawks this season, hindering the dynamic Kane at times. While the team’s long-term hope is that Finnish prospect Teuvo Teravainen will be the man in the middle for Brandon Saad and Kane, and while Andrew Shaw had instant chemistry with the two in the conference final, Bowman said trading or signing a center is an option. Big names such as San Jose’s Joe Thornton and Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler are on the market but would command a major package of prospects and maybe even established stars in return. Colorado’s Paul Stastny is a free agent, but in a weak pool, he likely will be asking for more than $5 million a season.
So it certainly wouldn’t be easy — especially with Toews’ and Kane’s expected monster contracts (possibly more than $10 million a year each) on the books starting in 2015-16. And Bowman is wary about how the Hawks are going to make it all fit under the salary cap. Next season’s cap number should be determined by draft day, and the following years’ numbers are just educated guesswork.
“I always have concerns,” Bowman said with a laugh. “That’s part of my job, to be looking forward. You can’t look year to year; you’ve got to look two or three years out. We know a year from now, there should be some kind of a bump with the new [Canadian] TV deal, but you don’t want to assume anything. You have to plan your moves two and three years ahead, which we’re doing.”
Still, Bowman wouldn’t rule anything out.
“I wouldn’t just limit it to [second-line center],” Bowman told the Sun-Times. “We’re always looking to improve our team, whether it’s at center, wing or defense. It’s not one position that we’re fixated on.”
It could take something as big as trading a core star such as Patrick Sharp or Brent Seabrook to swing such a deal. Johnny Oduya, who has one year left at $3.375 million, is another player who could be shipped out to clear cap space. Bowman said there are “untouchables” on the Hawks, but he wouldn’t say who those players are.
“That would be no fun,” he said with a smirk. “I’ll let you guess.”
NOTE: Stan Bowman has had discussions with Ben Smith, Antti Raanta and Jeremy Morin, the team’s three restricted free agents. He said he fully expects Raanta to be Corey Crawford’s backup goalie next season. Smith and Morin are expected back, as well.